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Monday, 19 March 2018
Page: 1514

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (20:22): Before the chair puts our amendments, I did just want to speak very briefly to schedule 9 of the bill—the one that relates to mutual obligation requirements for people aged 55 to 59. In doing so, I want to express my dismay at both versions—this current version and the previous version in schedule 9—that the government put forward. We know that people in this age bracket are currently required to do 30 hours of activity per fortnight to meet their mutual obligation requirements. Importantly, this requirement can be fulfilled by doing 30 hours of volunteering. I want to say in my own capacity as the shadow assistant minister for families and communities, who would therefore have responsibility for volunteering, how important this is, particularly the contribution of people in this age cohort. Of the volunteers in Australia, we have 278,000 or more who are aged 55 to 59. I want to commend Volunteering Australia for pursuing this issue relentlessly; indeed, they have secured some amendments. Nevertheless, we don't believe they go far enough. When you look at the dignity and self-worth that people get out of volunteering their time for that 30 hours a fortnight, it is of immense benefit to the community, and it's also immensely important, given the very tight employment market, for people in this age cohort. I think we saw something like one job for every six jobseekers in this kind of space, which means we really should be encouraging people into meaningful activity that supports the community, supports their wellbeing, supports their mental health and is not a futile quest for jobs that aren't there. Clearly, people can and should be able to seek work and receive all the support they need to do that, but it is simply unreasonable of the government to be putting aside the 30 hours of activity per fortnight in volunteering in order to split that so that people can do 15 hours volunteering and 15 hours looking for work. The simple fact is that will be too difficult for many people. They'll say, 'I'll have to quit my jobseeking, first and foremost,' and that will impact on their wellbeing as well as the community activities that won't be supported.

I acknowledge the importance of the campaign and the work done by Volunteering Australia, but I simply put on the record tonight that we are still moving in our amendments to remove that schedule because we don't believe it goes far enough.